First phase of airport’s train to begin operations in early 2013

by Emily Gersema – Apr. 29, 2011
The Arizona Republic

Dozens of workers have erected 10,000 tons of steel and 11,000 yards of concrete over recent months to make the pedestrian walkway that bridges Washington Street and the platform for the 44th Street PHX Sky Train station.

Commuters who use Washington Street and the Metro light rail have watched the structure develop into a towering bridge near the Grand Canal and 44th Street. The platform where passengers will wait for the unmanned train to take them to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is about 40 feet from the ground.

Photos of PHX Sky Train construction

he ceiling and roof for the platform have not been built yet, but workers recently installed 17 elliptical steel arches, which will support the roof. Each arch weighs about 35,000 pounds.

The platform’s emergence is a milestone for the $1.5 billion project, which crews began building more than a year ago.

Media members were invited to take a look at the platform Thursday before workers closed it off for further construction. The interior will be finished, and workers will add moving walkways, escalators and elevators.

Construction of the rail is expected to wrap up sometime early next year, said Dave Benjamin, the project superintendent for builder Hensel Phelps.

Steve Grubbs, a Phoenix Aviation Department special-projects administrator, told the Aviation Advisory Board last week that workers at a Bombardier plant in Pittsburgh are piecing together 18 rail cars for thetrains, which will be opened to passengers in early 2013 after about a year of testing.

Sometime next year Bombardier will begin testing the trains, which are unmanned. They will be controlled and monitored by engineers and technicians who sit inside a special Bombardier operations center.

The operations center is on 44th Street, north of Washington Street.

Grubbs said the trains will travel at an average speed of 23 mph, although they can go as fast as 38 mph. They will carry about 13,500 passengers every day.

During the week, four two-car trains will run along the rails every three minutes, Grubbs said.

Crews are building two other platforms for the train, which will run from the 44th Street station to Terminal 4. Platforms will be added at the East Economy Lot and Terminal 4.

Sky Harbor officials also are making plans to ease headaches for passengers who ride the rail.

Grubbs said that officials are working on an agreement with “our two biggest airline partners to have two big check-in stations” on the 44th Street and East Economy Lot platforms for passenger luggage.

Southwest Airlines and US Airways are the leading carriers at Terminal 4. That terminal is the airport’s busiest. About 1.2 million passengers – 80 percent of all Sky Harbor passengers – fly in and out of the terminal each month.

Sky Harbor officials have been applying for federal funding to complete the second phase of the train, which would run to the Rental Car Center.